I have spent enough time in North Carolina to be interested in a good furniture story. I gotta admit that I have never heard of anything quite like this: Made.com let’s people vote on what styles it should sell and then builds winning styles to order.
There are two intriguing aspects. First, there is the crowd-sourcing story. Made.com posts designs and lets members vote on which ones should go into production. (Go here to see what is currently being reviewed.) There is a question of how much the voting really matters. That is, is this process really how they decide on their assortment or is this more of a publicity machine?
The second part is the custom production. I don’t know how the British furniture market works, but in the US a lot of furniture is custom-made (although maybe not at these prices). If you go and look at the ordering pages (say, here), you are told how many days, hours, and minutes you have left to order. Given that manufacturing is being done in China, I suspect that they have some minimum order quantity they need to hit. This dovetails nicely with the voting on styles. They have presumably chosen styles that have sufficient appeal that they can hit their minimum order. That raises the question of what happens when voting proves to be very different from buying. If they mistakenly move a dog of a style into the ordering process, what do they do when they get very few orders? If they really want to make money by pushing style at low prices, they will have to consistently get high demand for individual styles.
So that leaves the question of whether this will work. I can see some design mavens getting interested in possible styles and excited to have a chance to vote. That should get them a base of users who provide meaningful feedback on products. The question is how many of those voters will turn into buyers. I can see crowd sourcing working for t-shirts. It’s relatively easy to justify buying another t-shirt. Couches and diningroom tables are a different story. Thus I don’t see how they can count on their community of voters to be regular buyers (unless that community becomes very, very big). That means they need to find some way to reach a large number of furniture shoppers — more specifically, motivated furniture shoppers. Their styles are available for order only for a matter of days. If you intend to go looking at couches or coffee tables over the next few weekends, you may well be disappointed. The style you loved could be dropped from the assortment. Thus, making this a successful business may require a significant change in how people shop for furniture.